Washington - A decade ago, no country in the world treated men and women equally under the law. According to a gender equality index from the World Bank. Today, only six countries do.
A new index released this week by the World Bank analyzes how each country's laws affect women at every stage in their working lives - from applying for a job to having a child to receiving a pension - and the extent to which legal gender equality has progressed over time.
The study shows that over the past 10 years, the majority of the world moved closer to gender equality under the law, raising the global average score from 70.06 to 74.71 today.
By the index's measures, six countries now have laws that protect men and women equally: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden.
The study, titled Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform, calculated each country's score using 35 different indicators, focusing on laws that affect women's ability to live and work freely.
Each of the data points were divided into eight categories: Going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets and getting a pension.
For each of the countries, the study would ask questions such as: Can a woman apply for a passport in the same way as a man? Can a woman legally pursue the same professions as a man? Can a woman legally sign a contract in the same way as a man? Can a woman legally be "head of household" in the same way as a man?
The study's authors then generated an unweighed average of all eight indicator scores on a scale of 0 to 100.
Over the past ten years, the region that improved the most on average was South Asia, followed by the East Asia and the Pacific and the sub-Saharan Africa region. The Middle East and North Africa improved the least, earning an average regional score of 47.37, meaning women there are given less than half the legal rights of men.
Among the economies that saw the most improvement in their scores, many introduced laws protecting against sexual harassment, discrimination in access to credit and restrictions on certain jobs, such as night shifts. Worldwide, a total of 35 economies passed laws on workplace sexual harassment.
Still, more than 56 economies across all regions implemented no laws improving gender equality over the past ten years. These countries, the World Bank study authors argue, are missing out on massive economic opportunities: The World Bank's data shows that when countries pass laws giving women and men equal protection, more women join the workforce.
"Ultimately, the data shows us that laws can be tools that empower women rather than that hold us back from achieving our potential," Kristalina Georgieva, interim president of the World Bank Group, wrote in the study.The Washington Post